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August 9, 2021updated 07 Nov 2023 8:11am

Archant sells three South West titles to new company led by ex-boss Simon Bax

By Charlotte Tobitt

Archant has sold three of its titles in south-west England to a new publisher led by its former executive chairman Simon Bax.

Ownership of the North Devon Gazette and Torbay Weekly newspapers and their websites, plus the Exeter Life magazine, will transfer to Clear Sky Publishing, as will all staff at the free-distribution titles.

Bax (pictured), who left Archant in December last year after a year in the role and six years on the board, set up Clear Sky with Torbay Weekly managing director Chris Coward.

They said they wanted to “create a new model for local media using the best traditions of print journalism and the immediacy of social media”, including the launch of new online and print brands.

Archant said the companies would together enhance the provision of local media in the South West. Clear Sky will use Archant’s digital marketing and advertising expertise.

Archant chief executive Lorna Willis said: “The intention is to build on the strong local connections of Clear Sky and be able to offer local and national advertisers an exceptional service across print and digital platforms giving them the best of both worlds.

“We will work closely together to introduce new features and services that will benefit our readers, customers and the communities that we collectively serve.”

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Archant launched the Torbay Weekly last year after being approached by former Reach and Local World executive Coward and ex-Torquay Herald Express editor Jim Parker who said they had heard interest in such a title from “countless” locals.

Coward said he now hopes to expand the model of a “paper that provides information that is important to the community and that is written by and for that community” to the whole of Devon.

Bax said he believed there was a “massive opportunity” to build on the success so far of the Torbay Weekly in North Devon while investing in a “complementary online offering in both areas with the support of Archant”.

“Clear Sky’s mission is to deliver useful and inspiring content to the local communities that it serves and to help local businesses thrive. It will be able to call upon the resources and expertise of Archant to supplement its local focus,” Bax said.

The North Devon Gazette, the only one of the three titles that is audited by ABC, had an average print distribution of 27,797 in 2020.

Archant’s website states the Torbay Weekly distributes 20,000 copies per week with 13,653 monthly website users. Some 8,000 copies of Exeter Life are distributed.

Archant publishes around 20 regional lifestyle magazines under the Life branding across England.

Parker, Torbay Weekly editor and now Clear Sky’s editor-in-chief, said: “Launching a newspaper and local news operation right at the start of the worst pandemic in history has not been without its challenges. But the feedback and support we’ve had for the Torbay Weekly and its unique community content model has been fantastic – from readers and commercial clients alike.

“We now enter the next leg of our exciting journey where we hope to deliver more rich and engaging content both in print and online to an expanding audience and marketplace, both editorially and commercially.”

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